Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Dark Side

This started out as an Artist Choice about Steely Dan. I will get to that soon but for now I've been diverted by the vexed subject of Bootlegs.

A year or so ago I wrote to Shindig Magazine about the fact that they reviewed so many live albums that were defacto Bootlegs. I was letter of the month and there were some furious replies from fans who had to possess every note ever uttered by their heroes, seemingly regardless of whether their heroes got paid or not.

Robert Fripp has some decided views on Bootlegging which I read around 1979. The thought that "it's rather like taking notes of a personal conversation to circulate or publish later" stuck. This remember was written many years before the mobile phone became a fixture at shows; "This is a peculiar custom that one should listen to music through the lens of a camera and I don't like being put in a situation where the sound, the atmosphere is being punctured by theft". The above comes from an article that appeared in Musician magazine, Bootlegging, Royalties and the Moment, find it online.

So the connection to Steely Dan? They have despite much touring in the last 20 years or so released only one highly unsatisfactory live album "Alive in America" in 1995. At least a dozen high quality recordings that sound as professionally produced as the official disc circulate online, and some, notably a recording from Missouri in 1993 get pressed up and sold as legitimate product. Often claimed as a radio show, online samples reveal a soundboard feed with prominent vocals & next to no keyboards or bass. There is also a set of pre Steely Dan demos that are currently available on Amazon as 25 different releases.

Why is this a problem? Donald Fagen has been vocal recently about the fact that there is no income from his old albums any more. While I suspect he protests too much (at least slightly) with a new vinyl edition of The Nightfly coming out and Steely Dan albums doing as well as or better than many other artists of a similar vintage; the fact that there are legitimate outlets, like Amazon, iTunes and eMusic selling fraudulent material in his name without the courtesy of paying him, or indeed the currently ill & unable to tour Walter Becker is doubtless galling.

One possible answer of course would be to release some of the hoard of live tapes and unreleased material himself. In the day of the super deluxe edition he is clearly missing out on a revenue stream. So Bootlegs are bad but Donald think before you whinge.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Why I'm giving up on eMusic


I joined eMusic in 2005. If you don't know eMusic it is a subscription based music download service. The content is sourced mainly from independent labels,with a lot of catalogue secured, until recently, through The Orchard & CD Baby.

In my Linkedin articles recently I have been looking at the way companies disregard their customer base leading to loss of said customer & ultimately the business. eMusic make a great object lesson in what not to do, so here are some of the ways that a once great service has been brought down, and left me and many others throwing up our hands and saying "ENOUGH".


Play Pass The Parcel With Your Business.

 eMusic was launched in 1995, that's four years before iTunes. Since then it has been variously owned by its founders, Vivendi (French media company), JDS Capital Management (venture capital), and was most recently acquired in 2015 by TriPlay an Israeli cloud computing company. Each time senior management was changed and from the number of people listing eMusic as a past company on Linkedin, staff left in droves after each takeover. The upshot of this of course was a lack of expertise, continuity or direction in the business leading to...


Frequent Changes in Business Model and Direction

Or, how to confuse your customers. With content rooted solidly in independent music and strong catalogues in Classical, New Age and other niche areas eMusic had a great USP, something that allowed it to stand apart from the fights between iTunes and the big labels. Then in 2009 the majors, Sony, then Warners and Universal crept onto the site, in the USA at least. The then CEO however stated in The New York Times "the future of eMusic, like its past, is in pursuing not the fickle mainstream but the passionate fringe". The U.K. store stayed with the independents, presumably due to rights issues.Then in 2014 the major labels disappeared again. There was a renewed commitment to the independent arena. With new owners came another shift to sourcing catalogue from 7Digital, meaning that on the site's relaunch in May 2017 much of the content disappeared, again presumably due to rights issues. Each relaunch was of course accompanied by new branding. An image search on Google brings up 9 different logos.

Something to Tempt The Buyer...

7Digital don't appear to distribute a number of the best known independent labels, Warp & Eagle Rock have gone completely and Rough Trade have only 27 albums on the site for instance. There are no meaningful new releases, oh there is new music every week, mostly obscure compilations, bootleg live albums and out of copyright jazz and classical. The customers want the new releases they hear on the radio and read about online or in the magazines, and which were always on the old version of eMusic. For me notable absences are the latest Public Service Braodcasting album (they have everything else from them so why not this?) and the new Peter Perrett album which they are advertising but, at least in the U.K. is not available to buy. I could go on, other customers are on the Emusers forum. One of my main labels of interest Frontiers (Italian based so no U.S.rights clashes I guess) is still adding new content so it can be done.


Ignore The Customers And Hope They Go Away 

The @emusichelps Twitter has been silent since 9th May. the main @emusic one posts a couple of hopeful items per month and the old noticeboard died with its website. The main means of communication is through a Reddit page meaning that the posts about poor customer service, disappearing content and departing customers are hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. The new website looks ok and does fix a few problems from the old one, but is very hard to navigate, and searching for anything specific is now a lot harder, assuming you can find anything in the first place. Oh and integration to iTunes has gone as well.


There may be legitimate reasons for the problems, new websites have issues I recognise that, but if eMusic are working away in the background to solve the problems, they aren't telling the customers. And they need to; soon, while they still have a business. If they aren't doing anything because the switch to 7Digital's platform has fundamentally broken the business, then own up to it, and start fixing it.

The obvious take away from all this is that this weeks owners neither understand or care about their customer base. The community aspect of eMusic expressed through various forums was one of its strengths. The fact that it appealed to the music obsessive (me!) who wanted to dig into the site and find long forgotten albums and new obscurities was another. The decision to move to 7Digital was clearly made on a cost basis and seems to sum up the whole "relaunch". It won't do eMusic, It won't do.


Postscript

I have just been sent a user satisfaction survey by email. You can guess how it went, but the concerning thing is that the headline "we are thinking about doing this" items were Hi Res audio (good), major label content (see above), and connectivity to smart watches, TVs and car radios. There's something about fiddling while Rome burns here I feel...









Thursday, 13 July 2017

Aliens ate my blog post

It's taken me ages to get this post written as new information came up and new cds arrived. So this may get amended in time...

Back in 1979 I was dozing in front of The Old Grey Whistle Test when up popped a new band, Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club. This is best version I can find on You Tube at the moment...

The thing that attracted me was the keyboards, a young kid hiding behind a stack of synths, producing piercing solos and textures different to anything else about at the time. They appeared on Radio 1 In Concert a few weeks later (I wish I still had that tape) and I was a fan. I bought the album "English Garden", was initially mildly disappointed by the "pop" production, and that following another single "Trouble Is" was that.

I heard "Europa & the Pirate Twins" by Thomas Dolby and joined the dots. Windpower followed and the album 'Golden Age of Wireless'. As usual I followed him off and on for the next few years up to his single with Sakamoto, "FieldWork", still one of my favourites by either artist. 


I have just been listening to the Audiobook of Thomas Dolby's Speed Of Sound and now know the goings on behind that music. I'll explore the business aspects of Dolby's relationship with the music and I.T. industries elsewhere, but the book paints a picture of an artist whose life influences his art perhaps more overtly than others. The 'Aliens Ate My Buick' album was a sharp change of direction, a move to the USA, marriage and work with George Clinton brought out a more upbeat funky feel, although the lasting song from the album for me is the more atmospheric 'Budapest By Blimp'. Listen to Jazz singer Claire Martin's version of "Key To Your Ferrari", proof that Dolby's main skill is as a songwriter.

I missed 'Astronauts & Heretics' but will explore it now having read about it in his book and listened to "The Beauty of a Dream". Read his tale of dragging a contribution out of Jerry Garcia before you hear the song.

Included at the end of the Audiobook of Speed Of Sound is Oceanea from his most recent album 'Map Of The Floating City. I knew of the album/game concept but the music was a surprise. Burning Shed have the 2CD version in stock. Mine arrived as I was writing this, and on first listen* the rest of the album is up to the standard of Oceanea. The package is nice as well, the map has all sorts of nuggets for the Dolby fan to spot, in fact it now seems that he has been building a whole world all these years, even down to the landlocked boat for a recording studio. I wonder if he has read J.G.Ballard?

 I would recommend the Audiobook version of The Speed of Sound as Dolby's narration gives it a personal feel that enhances the story. Any or all of his albums are worth exploring, if you get his "comeback" live album 'The Sole Inhabitant' get the DVD for the between song chat and anecdotes. His instrument set up including bits of 1920's radios is also interesting, at least it was to me...

I wasn't aware of how personal many of his lyrics were, the "fun" nature of his early music masked that aspect of his work, but I am listening with new understanding to all his albums and enjoying the more introspective work on Astronauts & Heretics and Map.... Take some time to read or listen to his book and find new depths in his music as I have.

 * after a couple more listens Oceanea, & Spice Train are favourites but To The Lifeboats is creeping up fast. You need to see the video of "The Toad Lickers" too, bizarre to almost Douglas Adams standards.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

One Of A Kind

Sid Smith has been talking about Bill Bruford's solo band from 1979 -80 on Twitter which got me thinking about them as well...

I came across Bill Bruford as part of U.K., although I didn't listen to them then. I may have mentioned before that I am very much of the curating style of music fan and I like to keep track of people so when two of U.K. turned up on Rock Goes To College sometime later I paid attention. Bill's clanging Roto Tom based drum sound was new to me, and they all seemed to be doing something slightly different with the sound of their instruments. Then I found the album 'One of a Kind' in a cut out bin for £1.99.

First track "Hell's Bells" still sounds like it's from another place, Holdsworth's opening solo with it's yawing vibrato and and the simple 11 note keyboard riff that repeats through the song set the tone for the rest of the album. One of my favourites has always been "The Abingdon Chasp", an Allan Holdsworth piece that was probably the first time I had heard bass guitar taking the lead in stating the theme of the piece, and to my mind is far more impressive than the slap bass solo at the start of 5G. For me the simplicity of the tunes allow the soloing space to expand to fill the gaps. Holdsworth complained in a magazine article that he hadn't been allowed to do much more than solo with U.K. and while Bruford were better he was still wheeled onto the mix to add flash rather than be integrated into the piece.

There had been an earlier album, with the same band 'Feels Good To Me', but the writing on 'One of A Kind had matured so far from this that it is odd that the Rock Goes to College show concentrates on it so much. There is a bootleg of the whole show that also features "Hell's Bells" and the two parts of "One Of A Kind", if anything Holdsworth's solo on the former is even more impressive than on record. Apparently it was the band's first gig.

In his autobiography Bill describes the trials of running the band, bringing bassist Jeff Berlin over from the US and carting Hammond Organs around, which explains Neil Murray's appearance on this OGWT segment promoting Feels Good To Me



I saw them play in Bath (The Pavilion?) in early 1980 supporting Brand X, who I hadn't learned to love yet. I was there for Bruford who were promoting their new album "Gradually Going Tornado". John Clark (the unknown John Clark) was doing a passable impression of AH and it turns out was his student. The band was good but to my recollection sounded like it was running out of steam. Not the band I had heard on TV the year before. Listening later to "The Bruford Tapes" a release of a radio show in New York reinforced this view of the Bath show. 

That third album with John Clark replacing Holdsworth and more vocals isn't one I listen to often, for me the high point of this band was 'One Of A Kind'. The writing, playing and arranging all aligned in perfect combination and is one of the highlights of improvised rock or jazz rock fusion. I still listen to it regularly and find it as fresh as in 1979.

I saw John Clark again about 5 years later when I was dragged to a Cliff Richard concert by my partner, and there he was adding Holdsworth style solos to "Wired For Sound" and "Bachelor Boy". Dave Stewart cropped up on Top Of The Pops with Barbara Gaskin, Jeff Berlin wandered off into the darker reaches of Fusion, and I next saw Bill Bruford at Moles Club, Bath in 1981 with a band called Discipline who shortly after became the next iteration of King Crimson. My remembrances of Allan Holdsworth are here.

For a view from the trenches of life in music from the 70s to the new century I unreservedly recommend Bill Bruford's autobiography. The fact that he has played on so much of my favourite music and played with people who I like may influence that view. He has some interesting opinions on the business of music as well.

There is a great acoustic version of One Of a Kind rounding off the Earthworks album 'Random Acts of Happiness' which I almost love more than the original.

Buy Bill Bruford's music at Burning Shed 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Reading Matter


I have always been a big fan of music magazines. Back in the beginning there was Sounds which always had a wider range of music than NME. NME was always a bit intimidating, out in Keynsham we never felt quite cool enough for it. Sounds spoke to the kids in out of the way places, like Keynsham!

About 1978 there was a short lived glossy magazine called, Rock On. This was what would today be called a legacy magazine (Mojo, Classic Rock) and had articles on the history of bands like Pink Floyd, Status Quo and Fleetwood Mac, with reviews and posters. Terrible writing and worse editing (I know now) but for the information starved teenage budding rock fan, absolute gold.

Later on there were sneaky reads of my sister's Smash Hits and buying Sounds International and Musician, but until Q, started up in the mid eighties there was a drought so far as informative magazines were concerned.

Recently I read Mark Ellen's memoir of his magazine days "Rock Stars Stole My Life!" A great read (or listen; I did the Audiobook), which tells you a lot about the business of music writing as well as the gossip. He tells of leaving Mojo when the corporate world became too much and the life and death of The Word, a magazine I read from first to last issues and loved for the quality of it's writing and depth of knowledge. In fact my reading journey seems to have followed Ellen, Smash Hits, Q, Select, Mojo, The Word...

So today following the collapse of Team Rock at the end of 2016, the general decline in readership and the advertising revenue that supports it, we have the general reads like Q, the legacy mags, Mojo, Classic Rock etc forever looking over their shoulders, and increasingly niche publications aimed at ever tighter segments of the market. Country, Prog, Blues all have their own, and now Planet Rock Radio have started a new competitor to Classic Rock. The downside is that the really good niche rock papers, Fireworks and Powerplay will likely lose sales to it as well. As both these but particularly  Firworks are written with care, knowledge and an understanding of the reader's expectations they need to survive, if nothing else to ensure we aren't just fed magazines that are aimed more
at the needs of advertising than written for the music fan.

What do I read currently?

Fireworks, AOR, Hard Rock, increasingly drifting into other related areas. If this is your thing buy it.
Mojo If it has something on the cover that interests me (about twice a year)
Uncut Ditto
Shindig Back when it was quarterly it was a brilliant on 60s, 70s and obscurities that you had to rush out and listen to, now Monthly there has been a slip in quality. The recent article on Be Bop Deluxe was such a car crash that I haven't been back, although when something interesting appears on the cover I will doubtless buy it. Reviews section always has something good in it.
JazzWise best Jazz magazine by far.

Online magazines are getting better all the time, I like Louder Than War and Paste

And then there are Blogs, but that's another kettle of worms altogether...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Mixing It...

A while back I touched on mix tapes. This weekend we went to see Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, good fun film as was the first one. The music and mix tapes are a key part of the film and I got wondering what makes a good song for a tape, or playlist.

In High Fidelity Nick Hornby gives all sorts of rules for creating a tape,the only one I have ever followed is not to have two tracks from the same artist consecutively. Like many people I was making mix tapes and playlists long before the iPod and long before they were a fashion accessory. I just made them to listen to. Oddly many songs that make it onto a playlist aren't ones I would pick out as favourites. There needs to be a rhythm to a playlist, a flow that carries you through the songs. The Cinema (Curzon in Clevedon, visit it) played the first Awesome Mix CD before the new film and it struck me that following 'Fooled Around and Fell in Love' (pretty much the perfect mix tape song with Mickey Thomas' soaring vocal and a cracking guitar solo) with 10CC 'I'm Not in Love' broke up the flow so badly that even 'I Want You Back' one of those songs around the top end of happy, couldn't rescue it. Playlists do need a couple of harsh transitions between songs to make sure the listener is awake, 'Cherry Bomb' does that just fine on the Guardians Of The Galaxy CD, but that needs to reset the mood not stick out like a sore thumb. 

Damn it I do have rules after all, and here are some more, Pop, Rock in all their forms go together, some country, you can add in most Soul or R&B, the mainstream end of Reggae perhaps, but Jazz, most Folk Music or anything Avant Garde are a step too far, especially if you expect to play it in the car with civilians present. If you are reading this I sort of take it for granted that the latest Rap & Techno probably aren't on heavy rotation on your iPod. 

The second Guardians of the Galaxy CD is far more a soundtrack than a mix tape, the songs work well in the film but hang together far less well as an album. At the end of the new film Peter is given a Zune "with 300 songs on it!", which will make the soundtrack to the next film a doddle.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Paying The Cost...


It's Record Store Day and amid the celebrations of all things vinyl & CD, there is the ever present dischord of the difficulty of making a living from music in 2017.
  
I wrote about Over The Rhine recently, and how difficult it is for people like them to make a living from their music.The financial risk in running a tour in Europe is huge for an independent artist. The costs of travel, and the fact that ticket sales can be a lottery at best mean budgeting a 3 week plus stay is next to impossible.

Allan Holdsworth passed away recently. A guitarist of prodigious talent feted by his peers who copied his style, admired by fans of Jazz & Rock, and who died in a financial position that left his family needing a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for his funeral. The question for me is where were all the fans who have mostly donated about $20, the price of a cd, when he was alive? His recently released compilation is £17 on Amazon. The carelessness of the online stores in pricing is highlighted by the fact that one had his career box set as a download for £6 for a while rather than £60.00. Who suffers? The artist.


I was lucky enough to meet Kim Edgar last year. A Scottish singer with 3 great albums, she was doing a short tour of the Highlands and came to Crianlarich. Her audience? Two. The Reasoning were a highly regarded Progressive Rock band from Wales. One of the factors causing their demise was the imposition of VAT on downloads in the U.K. The accounting costs moved their Bandcamp sales from acceptable to untenable.

Why are we in this position? Is the music not good enough? Hardly. If you don't like any of the above, and please try them, then there are hundreds of other artists who in a better time and place would be selling records by the boatload. Poor promotion? Possibly in some cases, but getting your head above the noise on Twitter is a struggle, the cost of physical product and distribution is a risk too far in many cases. The real answer lies in the culture of the music industry; exploitative for so long and now unwilling, or unable, to make the radical changes needed to move past the short-termism of the X Factor model and nurture artists for rewards in the future. Vinyl won't I'm afraid save the industry, it is a fad, and will fade. CDs still sell to some extent, but digital formats are where the world is going. The major streaming portals need to engage with the industry outside the few remaining major labels to achieve an equitable share out of the revenue. I recognise that they can't deal with every artist one at a time, but working with Bandcamp, CD Baby and their like would bring enough artists into the fold to encourage others to join in. Will it happen? Something has to. Something also has to be done to make music vital to teenagers, as it was in my (long ago) time. How? New music that energises and excites them as happened in the 60's, punk and grunge. We aren't going to find that on reality TV.

Part of my business Selling Service is helping artists find an audience. Talk to me if you want to learn more about getting your message out. tim@selling-service.co.uk



Monday, 17 April 2017

Allan Holdsworth

 
I said when I wrote about John Wetton that I wasn't one for marking every musician's passing, but now this...

In the late 70s Virgin Record stores published a magazine. In among advertorials for whatever they were selling that month was the occasional article that piqued my interest. One of these was on a new supergroup U.K. I was just starting on the path away from Top Of The Pops and the "previously with..." list read well. I didn't buy the record then, but a couple of years later saw Bill Bruford's band on 'Rock Goes To College', and discovered the world where Jazz met Rock. the guitarist stood out of the limelight, but something interesting was going on. At much the same time (or very close, memory may be faulty here) I bought my first guitar magazine, Beat Instrumental and read about Edward Van Halen's love of Allan Holdsworth.

So armed with 'One Of A Kind' and the first U.K. album I learnt more. The solos on 'In The Dead of Night', and  'Hells Bells' opened new views on what was possible with the electric guitar.


Sometime later BBC Radio 3 (yes 3) broadcast a session of Holdsworth's new solo band I.O.U. Recorded without the vocals of Paul Williams from the album it remains some of my favourite pieces of his playing and deserves an official release. I have followed him intermittently ever since.

'Road Games', 'Metal Fatigue', 'All Night Wrong', and 'Blues For Tony' are my favourites. If you are new to his music get the new compilation Eidolon, but be prepared to end up buying the new very suitably named 'The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever!' 12 cds of solo albums heralding new improved versions of his work.

In 1990 he joined Level 42 for a tour and part of the Guaranteed album. The only officially released live work is on a box set, the solo on Love Meeting Love is sublime.



Now too soon and suddenly he has gone. The crime that has artists of his quality leaving their family's needing Go Fund Me for funeral expenses is a subject I will come back to in a later post but for now I would suggest buying the new compilation, Bruford's One Of A Kind and reading Bill Bruford's autobiography which describes his time working with Allan Holdsworth, who comes across as someone unwilling to compromise his work, possibly a little difficult at times, but commited to his vision of the guitar and its possibilities.

Bill Bruford said on his Facebook page
With enormous sadness I write to express my condolences to Allan's family on the loss of a much-loved father and grandfather, my friend and colleague. For several years in the 1970s, through my own band and 'UK', I listened to him nightly, launching sheets of sound on an unsuspecting audience, changing perceptions about what guitars and guitarists should or could be doing, thrilling me half to death.I would have paid to be at my own gig.
Allan wasn't easy, but if it was easy it wouldn't have been Allan. Like all creative musicians he was restless and relentless in pursuit of 'the perfect sound', the one that he couldn't get out of his head, the one that would never leave him alone. Now he will be at peace. Still, my guitar gently weeps.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Over The Rhine Live in London


Busy busy at the moment. My review of Over The Rhine was published by Americana UK recently. If you read my piece on them you may find this interesting as well. Click HERE to read the review.



Saturday, 25 March 2017

Artist Choice 2: Over The Rhine

I discovered Over The Rhine on holiday in 2004. The CD that came with Paste Magazine contained 'Show Me' which was a good start but the magazine article, which I can't find online, was what hooked me. A description of the recording process and all round hymn of praise to their album Ohio. So my introduction to the band was a double cd lasting ninety minutes which Paste called "a true confessional masterpiece". Thirteen years later it is still towards the top of my most played on the iPod, joined there by albums older and newer, but all of them with the spark of musical greatness. 

Where to start? Over the Rhine have been at least two different bands, an early indie pop four piece featuring guitarist Ric Hordinski, whose album 'When I Consider How My Light is Spent' is also worth your attention. The collection from these years 'Discount Fireworks' is a good entry point, personally I also like the album 'Besides' that started life as a fan club disc, but has some real gems on it. The period from 'Good Dog Bad Dog' saw the band contract to husband and wife team Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. Unashamed pop record 'Films for Radio' followed and then they found their calling with Ohio. A string of albums have followed in the subsequent years. The best place to learn about them is on the music page of the band site. There is also a good playlist that gives a flavour of what to expect from an Over The Rhine album.

If I have a favourite song (of any artist), then it is probably Latter Days. Reading the lyrics only hints at the epic quality of the song itself. A grandeur that reflects the best church music. "There’s so much more to life than words", not when they are sung by Karin there isn't. Listen to the song here.

Karin & Linford are gearing up for some new records and as with the last few are going down the fan funding route. This time they are offering three records. Read about them here and support the band in their enterprises. I have gone for the Hear It option, partly because of the ruinous cost of postage from the USA, and partly to hold onto money to spend on what I hope will be a well stocked merchandise stall at their show at Cecil Sharp House in London on April 2nd. Why isn't this sold out? How can they mange a whole tour in Holland and only one show in mainland Britain? Buy tickets here.

I would love to see a whole U.K. tour, and can think of many places, like St Georges Bristol, that would be ideal for them to play. But it needs support and a certain level of ticket sales to make it possible which in these days is a struggle for British artists let alone those taking a risk on crossing the Atlantic. I am just happy that after all the years following them I get to a show at last.

 So what do I suggest starting with?

'Good Dog Bad Dog' remains one of my most played albums. the download only live version from 2010 is also worth a listen.
Of 'The Live from Nowhere' sets I would go for Volumes 1 and 4 first, but you will want them all in time.
'Meet Me At The Edge Of The World' is going to take some topping I look forward to hearing them try.
Of the earlier albums I like 'Besides' and 'Eve'
Linford has a series of solo piano instrumental albums. I like 'Grey Ghost Stories' best. The piece  'Someday We'll Move To A Small Farm (And Sit And Watch The Snow Fall)' is typical of the autobiographical quality of the band's lyrics tipping over into his solo music. I'm pleased to say they did move to that farm.

I'm sure you will find your own favourites once the music starts to haunt you. The fact that the world still has a place for artists like Over The Rhine even if it is at or near subsistence level, means that despite the best efforts of our leaders this world is a place worth living in.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Elbow at Newport Centre 10th March 2017

Elbow's studio albums can sound a little antiseptic at times, however on stage they are a different prospect altogether. Tonight's show at the local swimming pool in Newport was a very different affair from the last time I saw them on The Take Off & Landing of Everything tour. That show matched the album's mood of quiet reflection with it's acoustic segment and orchestral backing. This time the evening reflected the celebratory feel of  much of 'Little Fictions' lyrics. Stand in drummer Alex Reeves' more muscular style, Pete Turner playing more bass guitar than I have seen him do previously, and the strings cut back to two violins sparingly gave a feel of a band renewed by their life experiences rather than worn down by them.

I joined the Elbow party with their 'career defining' ™ appearance at Glastonbury and quickly worked my way back through their catalogue. It was good to hear Great Expectations from 2005's 'Leaders Of The Free World' tonight, with over half the new album played and the rest spread across the previous three records.

Craig Potter was on percussion for the opening songs. Opener 'Gentle Storm', as has been pointed out in several reviews, almost has a club feel to it. Pete Turner switched between Fender Jazz & Jaguar basses, and seemed to have fairly constant tuning problems, keyboards were on a riser at the back with the drums in a corner stage left.  Of the new songs 'Kindling' and 'Magnificent (She Says)' stood out for me, but with a set list that included songs from at least five albums there was something for everyone. Elbow know their audience and in Guy Garvey have one of the outstanding frontmen, conducting the sing along, and creating an atmosphere of good cheer. My favourite of the audience participation numbers, 'Lippy Kids', was as good as I have heard. And then there is 'One Day Like This', restored to it's rightful place as show closer leaving room for encores of 'Kindling', 'My Sad Captains' and an exuberant 'Grounds For Divorce'. A great show.

Less great was the venue, while I understand the desire to play smaller places this 2000 capacity Badminton Court was crammed and with quite a low stage those of a lesser stature, me, were left struggling to see what was going on. Can't tell you a thing about what guitars Mark Potter was playing. Comments on Twitter suggest I wasn't the only one with this issue. The burger beforehand was one of the culinary experiences of my life, and it was noticeable that no more were served once ours had come out.


Support act C Duncan, came over as a mix of fellow Scots Aztec Camera circa 1983, and Fleet Foxes, a favourite on 6 Music apparently, he must work better on record. Mostly Harmless to coin a phrase.

Despite the slight reservations about the venue a genuinely great gig. Elbow are one of the preeminent live acts of the moment. When I saw them in 2014 there was a hint that shows were being recorded. All I can say is build a live album boys.

Buy Little Fictions at your music outlet of choice.

C Duncan's music is available on his Bandcamp page a listen to some samples suggests he is a subject for further investigation.


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Labels, what are they good for?

What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/labels.html
What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/labels.html

 "What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black & white, the cartoon... Siouxsie Sioux

What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/siouxsiesi183818.html?src=t_labels
What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/labels.html
What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/labels.html
What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/labels.html
What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon. Siouxsie Sioux
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/labels.html
Last night there was the usual musical discussion in the bar and a friend announced "I like the 70's at least up to 1977, it all went wrong with punk".

Really? I was 13 in '77, he wasn't, so my musical wonder years were soundtracked at least partly by Punk, whatever that was. I was a Peel listener, not one of the 20 million who say they were listening the first time he played the Ramones, but not long after that. As with all new "movements" quality control was not always the big concern for punk bands, but Ramones, The Clash, and The Stranglers were great, and still are. But, are they a movement or just a bunch of bands who appeared at about the same time?

Punk quickly morphed into new wave, and I learned the term "Power Pop". The best definition of Power Pop I have seen is "a style of pop music characterized by a strong melody line, heavy use of guitars, and simple rhythm". Sounds like a lot of what was going on around 1978 to me. 

So three labels for much the same part of the musical landscape. Punk/New Wave/Power Pop was a varied mix of music, at least as much as what had gone before. The difference at the time was the labelling of different micro genres was vitally important, mostly to NME & Sounds but also to mark your tribe out from the "old farts" who listened to Yes, Genesis & Led Zeppelin.Over the years around the turn of the Eighties the music seemed to shift to accommodate the labels. The Mohican & bondage trousers end of punk turned into Oi!, the clue's in the name, with bands like Sham 69 & The Cockney Rejects leading the charge. New Wave splintered into most of the factions that ruled the early 80s, synthpop, goth, even some of the more banal U.S. "college" bands all grew out of New Wave. Power Pop headed by The Jam became the mainstream of guitar based pop, fusing elements from Nuggets style garage bands with Punk & Pub Rock.

On the iPod labels or genres, are part of the basic classification. I have 23 at the moment. The largest is alternative, a label that seems to cover Nirvana, Coldplay, Oasis & Arcade Fire making it pretty much useless as a way of defining what you will get when you press play. So, labels what are they good for? A way of sorting the wood from the trees, of feeling connected to your peers, or just another marketing tool? Personally I use them to find music that suits my mood, but I know that my inner librarian also wants to keep things in the right place, but after New Wave fractured into a hundred subsets that right place could have a dozen names.

I'll talk more about Power Pop another time but for now visit Pop Geek Heaven, Bruce Brodeen's resource site for anything with a jangly guitar and a catchy chorus.

The record sleeves on this post are a few of my favourites from the late 70's. Things I can still listen to now.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

I Think I'll Make A Playlist or How I Learnt to Love Weird Stuff.


When I started taking music seriously in the mid/late 1970s money was at a minimum so I had my cassette recorder attached to the radio much as everyone else did. So my early listening was nearly all playlists, made up of tapes of stuff from Radio 1. Early on I got organised and had the contents of my tapes written down in exercise books so I could find a given song when it was required. The random nature of recording stuff off the radio meant that the tapes weren't planned and as I always had a fairly broad taste you could find Punk next to Prog next to Pop.

I think the broad taste came from early exposure to some slightly unusual choices of early records and most importantly the radio. Having a Dad who owned a TV shop meant I had a rather better stereo than many 12 year olds, but not much to play on it. My first (proper) single was nearly 'Bohemian Rhapsody' but John Menzies in Keynsham were out of stock so Mum came back with 10CC's 'Art for Arts Sake' for god's sake. My first L.P. was a copy of The Moody Blues 'In Search of the Lost Chord' that got left in our shop, I played it for a few weeks, failed to understand what was going on and moved onto my first album choice E.L.O's 'A New World Record'. Then the world shifted. I started listening to John Peel in the middle of 1977, and was hooked quickly. Received wisdom says he was playing punk and only punk then, well over the first year or so as well as the first play of the Sex Pistols album with the thrill of hearing 'God Save The Queen' then "banned" on the BBC, I heard him play Little Feat's 'Waiting for Columbus' which remains a favourite, Bob Marley's 'Babylon By Bus' folk, country, Viv Stanshall and Ivor Cutler.

At the same time I was listening to Alan Freeman on a Saturday afternoon. The Friday Rock Show Wiki has some show lists of Freeman's programmes as well and this is a typical one. I could have made that playlist. There was also on Radio 3 of all places a "popular" music show called Sounds Interesting (mmm nice!) hosted by Derek Jewell who introduced me to Joni Mitchell's 'Don Juan's Reckless Daughter', Weather Report's 'Mr Gone', and above all Steely Dan. Aja remains one of my top 5 albums and is as fresh now as when I first heard 'Home At Last' on Sounds Interesting in 1977.

So playlists were important then and important now. I have artist related ones and genre related ones, although these never seem to stay in the categories I tell them to, but the best playlists are still the ones with the unexpected meeting of songs such as Yes' 'Leave It' meshing perfectly with Abba's 'Dancing Queen' , try it you'll see I'm right.

I think Steve Jobs must have had similar early listening experiences to me, how else would he have come up with shuffle feature on iPods. Is it just me or does your iPod have a sixth sense when it comes to shuffling, mine never seems entirely random and often throws up music I wouldn't have picked but suits my mood exactly. Paranoid? Me?


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

John Wetton

I'm not often moved to write about a musician who has passed, but John Wetton was different.

At the start of the eighties some of my favourite musicians started forming bands together in some sort of fantasy rock group league. First Adrian Belew from Bowie's band & Talking Heads joined up with Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and a guitarist called Robert Fripp who I had never heard of, and then two of the lineup that made Drama, still my best loved Yes album, to form Asia with ELP's drummer and John Wetton.

John Wetton was a favourite by then. A hard driving bass player and a singer with a distinctive mid range voice. I heard him originally on U.K.'s Night After Night live album, worked back to the first U.K. album (where I found Bruford and especially Allan Holdsworth) and then earlier versions of King Crimson. Asia were different, more mainstream, the term AOR was just becoming one of abuse, but with enough substance to keep the music interesting. Built around Geoff Downes keyboard sounds, which were as much Buggles as Yes, Steve Howe's guitar solos were trimmed to keep you wanting more rather than looking at your watch, and Carl Palmer by and large kept out of the way.

In Downes, Wetton had the writing foil he needed to bring out the commercial aspect of his songs and make them hits. Short punchy anthems, the first album was full of them. John Wetton had been heading in this direction for a while, "As Long As You Want Me Here" on Night After Night, and his sole contribution to Wishbone Ash "That's That",and Downes contributions enabled him to create an album full of memorable hooks and tunes. Mike Stone's production and the business backing of John Kalodner and Geffen Records provided the mega seller that four muso's from the seventies would never have expected.


Lightning didn't strike twice and the second album was not as good, and in the end politics got in the way. The whole story is on Wikipedia fairly accurately. After Asia Wetton had a solo career that produced some great songs and a lot of good versions of his past triumphs. I saw the reformed Asia in 2009 and they were good, the voice was there and the bass playing was excellent. Wetton still had it right up to the end. The last picture I saw of him meeting Fripp was of a gaunt figure, who has sadly joined the ranks of the gone too soon. I will remember the powerhouse singer and bassist and play some his music tonight. What would I suggest to the person who has only just learnt his name or lost track in 1982?

Asia - "Asia" The whole album not a bad song on it. Heat Of the Moment might have been the hit but   there are stronger songs and performances.

John Wetton - "Live In Tokyo 1997" Some of his best interpretations of Crimson, U.K. and Asia along with the pick of his then current solo stuff, skip the solos though.

Wishbone Ash - "That's That" from Number The Brave, great metallic bass sound, Asia should have covered this.



John Wetton - "Raised in Captivity" His last studio album and probably one of his best

His whole discography is here explore it and find some lost gems along with songs that if you are of my generation will resonate with you

John Wetton 1949 - 2017 R.I.P.







Saturday, 21 January 2017

Artist Choice Part One - Samantha James


In 2009 one of my discoveries was Samantha James. You can get the basic bio here. On the surface one of the stable of EDM artists that OM Records offer to the world, there is a certain something about the mix of her voice, the production, and the slightly hippy trippy lyrics that adds up to more than the sum of it's parts. So far her two albums Rise in 2007 & Subconscious from 2010 are at the top of my "played" count on the iPod. How come a fairly "traditional" fan took to something that seems a bit remote from my usual listening fare?

I think it is that "certain something" and the personal reaction to music I mentioned in "How Did I Miss This" previously. The arrangements often have an acoustic or slightly more organic element to them than run of  the mill Electronic Dance Music. There was an acoustic E.P. accompanying the Rise album where the songs stood up as well stripped back as they did with full "band". The lyrics on closer inspection are far deeper than they seem at first glance. The Subconscious album came out of the passing of her father from cancer, but it comes across as a very positive set of songs. Rise took a two years to complete and a couple of the songs have the feel of being worked over once too often, the acoustic version of 'Rain' is far superior to the album cut for instance. It does however contain two of her best songs, 'Rise' and 'Send It Out To The Universe'. So strong songwriting with thoughtful arrangements,  and a judicious use of collaborators, Brazilian singer/guitarist Celso Fonseca, and the Canadian J.B.Eckl who has collaborated with Carlos Santana in the past. Neither chosen for their big name pulling power but each adds to the songs they appear on. There are the inevitable remixes, Kaskade, & Eric Kupper, as well as others I have never heard of. The thoughtfulness in the process again comes through.


And after a single, 'Wings of Faith' in 2011 that was it, A couple of guest appearances on obscure albums crept out and her social media posts dwindled. I thought we may be left with two great albums as her legacy, but just recently the pace has picked up. A collaboration with Myon looks like bearing fruit in 2017 so this may be the time to investigate Samantha James.

Listening to her sent me off to other Downtempo and Nu-Jazz related artists like Late Night Alumni, Kyoto Jazz Massive and the Saint Germain Des Pres Cafe compilations. Try the playlist below as a starter and let me know what you think.

From Rise
Rise
I Found You
Enchanted Life
Send It Out To The Universe

From Rise Acoustic Sessions
Rain

Together As One (with Charles Webster)

From Subsconcious

Waves of Change
Veil
Subconscious
Illusions

Buy her music on Bandcamp
Twitter @samanthajames13
Online at Om Records There's another playlist and videos here

Monday, 9 January 2017

How Did I Miss This?

There's no logic behind the music you (or at least I) listen to. A friend tried to explain football to me once and why he supports Yeovil Town. I still don't get football, but I do get the feeling that you were meant to discover a team, or band, and follow them through thick & thin. This loyalty, borne of the hope that this is album is where they will find the spark again has been misplaced more than once. I went on buying Santana's albums long after it became obvious he didn't have another Moonflower to offer for instance.

But then there is the music that passes you by at the time and you only pick up on thirty or more years later; like Magazine.

I heard 'Shot by Both Sides' when John Peel played it, I watched them on Old Grey Whistle Test but the rest of their career came and went without me giving a second glance. Given that I liked a lot of bands from a similar part of the musical forest I don't know why. Then just a couple of months ago I saw their performance at the Electric Prom in 2009 on You Tube.This one in fact...

... and a few weeks later I have the excellent compilation 'Touch & Go', A BBC In Concert from 1978 and just downloaded today, 'Real Life and Thereafter' from the 2009 reunion tour.

The synth line in 'Definitive Gaze', Songs like 'Give Me Everything', Surely these would have struck the same chord then as they have now. I listen to a lot of music now that I was listening too in 1979/80 still and I must have heard them on the radio so why did I not pick up on this at the time? I had 30 years, I could have gone to the 2009 tour. What blinded me to the obvious quality of Howard Devoto's lyrics or Barry Adamson's bass playing for all this time? Who knows, anyway, found it now.

The question of course is what else is out there to find?  Artists I still don't get although I know I "should" like them include Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen. At least with these I have tried, I have listened to their albums, looked for the point of entry that will connect me the millions who clearly hear something I don't.

That of course is the point of music, it is the intensely personal reaction to music, (or football) which makes the journey and the exploration worthwhile, and fills up the iPod with something to suit any mood or emotion.

Let's see what's out there...